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Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

Blog Tour- Ausma Zehanat Khan- The Unquiet Dead

Scarborough Bluffs, Toronto: the body of Christopher Drayton is found at the foot of the cliffs. Muslim Detective Esa Khattak, head of the Community Policing Unit, and his partner Rachel Getty are called in to investigate. As the secrets of Drayton’s role in the 1995 Srebrenica genocide of Bosnian Muslims surface, the harrowing significance of his death makes it difficult to remain objective. In a community haunted by the atrocities of war, anyone could be a suspect. And when the victim is a man with so many deaths to his name, could it be that justice has at long last been served?

Once again with The Unquiet Dead I have had the privilege of reading a book that defies any simplistic recognition of it being a ‘crime thriller’. Instead what we experience as readers is a searing testimony to the futility and brutality of war, in this instance the violent break up of the former Yugoslavia, and a sensitive and heartfelt portrayal of survivor rage, and guilt. All this is cocooned within the more linear investigation of a suspicious death; a death that reaches back into the turbulent past, but with severe ramifications for those in the present.

I am rarely emotionally moved by a book to the degree that I need to sometimes halt and take a breath, and in common with this book, those have been occasioned by novels depicting war and its consequences. Given the emotional reach of this book in terms of its depiction of the genocide and rape that occurred in this conflict, Khan’s prose and imagery of war is beautifully controlled throughout. It is written with a clarity and grace of simplicity that every scene of man’s unconscionable violence towards others hammers straight into the heart of the reader. Taking into account the author’s depth of research, this feeling of discomfort is amplified by the knowledge that these scenes are so firmly grounded in truth. These dreadful events happened, thousands died, and many more live with the physical and mental scarring of having witnessed such tragedy. Alternating between the past and present, the reader remains fully engaged with both timelines throughout, slowly piecing together the incontrovertible truth of  history continually reverberating in the present, as all the protagonists experience to some extent. Khan uses this motif not only in those affected by the war, but also other characters who have experienced some form of emotional, marital or familial upset too, so the level of human interest is palpable and certain situations recognisable to the reader too. It’s cleverly done, and merely strengthens the many levels of human relationships and experiences that permeate throughout the book.

For reasons that will be become absolutely clear when you read this book for yourselves, I am loath to delve too deeply in this review on some of the characters in this book for fear of giving too much away. Suffice to say, several of them exhibit the best and worst characteristics of the human condition, from quiet dignity to unbelievable greed and hatred. Instead, I would draw your attention to the unique combination of detectives Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty who prove themselves so defined by their differences, but so symbiotic as an investigative team. There’s a wonderful quote from Getty on her taciturn and reserved boss, Khattak, in which she says, “He wasn’t a man who dealt in ultimate truths as she did, he traversed the underground cities of doubt and discrepancy where human frailty revealed itself in layer upon layer of incongruity.” Khattak remains almost unknowable throughout, being both sensitive and prone to introspection, but retaining an aura of quiet determination, despite certain revelations and his involvement in the case at a more personal level. Equally, Getty has an intriguing back story in terms of her family background which unfolds slowly, giving her some personal revelations of her own. She also proves an excellent foil to Khattak with her propensity to cut straight to the chase, and ask the difficult questions at the right time, without fear or favour. I liked both these characters immensely, and the strength of their partnership and very individual personalities that lie at the core of the book.

With a slow reveal of historic crimes, emotional wounds and the desire for monetary gain, revenge or closure, this books burns with a unique intensity, that is quite difficult to put into words. As a meditation on war and its aftermath it’s powerful and disturbing, and as a crime thriller on a conventional level it transcends the genre in terms of its emotional reach and characterisation. A difficult, yet thoroughly rewarding read, that will linger in my mind for some time to come. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to No Exit Press for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites: 

Author Interview: Chris Carter- The Caller

 

July heralds the paperback release of The Caller– the latest thriller featuring detectives Hunter and Garcia, and no doubt depravity and murder await them. Chris Carter has stopped by to tell us more, starting with what the new book is all about…

The Caller is a novel about a new type of serial killer who likes to use Social Media for his victims. The theme of the novel that will hit very close to home with a lot of people because of its theme. It’s also quite scary at times, so by all means, go check it out.

There is an established history of detective duos in the crime genre and Hunter and Garcia form an extremely effective partnership, despite their obvious differences. The steadfast Garcia is the perfect foil for the troubled yet brilliant Hunter, so how did you formulate such a winning partnership? And when they were separated in a previous book, was there a stronger impetus to team them up again?

To be very truthful, Hunter and Garcia’s partnership was formulated by chance. I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want to write about a sole detective. I wanted my main character to have a partner. I guess that the main reason why they are so well accepted is because I have tried my best to keep Hunter and Garcia as real as possible. Yes, Hunter has a high IQ and a very analytical mind, which of course helps him in all the investigations, but he’s not self-absorbed or egocentric. In fact, I write him as one of the most common people one could meet, with the sort of common problems we all face. His relationship with Garcia tends to be a little funny, simply because Hunter is not a “joke” person and Garcia is.

It was fun to write a book where Hunter and Garcia weren’t working together, but yes, there was a very strong impetus to team them up again.

Your background in criminal psychology is well referenced, but what intrigues me is whether you cast mind back to a particular individual and construct a plot around them, or is it plot first and then you select an antagonist?

To be honest I have done both. Sometimes the first thing I think about concerning a possible new novel is the main idea for the plot, sometimes I envisage the antagonist first and then come up with a plot.

I guess it’s not too much of a stretch to say that your regular readers enjoy the more macabre aspects of your writing, but on a more serious note, how cathartic do you find this aspect of writing out the darkness, in terms of those you have encountered in your past?

That’s a very good question. Most of the time, writing out the darkness I have encountered in my past, or even the darkness that undoubtedly resides inside me can be very liberating. Writing down what’s going on inside ones mind is a very well known therapeutic method, but sometimes writing down this dark passages brings back some very strong memories – memories that I’d rather not have disturbed, but I guess that that’s part of the job, really.

Why do we love to read about serial killers, and even form a strangely amicable relationship with them? I would of course mention Hannibal Lector, as it would be rude not to, but I rather liked Lucian Folter from An Evil Mind, despite the fact he was quite a sick puppy indeed…

That’s a very hard question to answer, so here’s the long version.

As a criminal behavior psychologist and as a crime thriller writer, I have been asked numerous times why is it that people are so fascinated by crime and murder? Why are people so fascinated by death and by those who cause it? Why do killers and what goes on inside their heads intrigue us so much?

The truth, I believe, is that there is no single correct answer to any of those questions. Every psychologist, criminologist, author, scholar, or whoever else has ever spent any time exploring the “if’s” and “why’s” that inevitably accompany every possible answer we can come up with, has undoubtedly come to their own interpretation of the possible reasons behind such fascination. The following is merely my own conclusion, based on my understanding of criminal psychology, what I know of the human mind and the many years I spent working with law enforcement agencies and interviewing serious criminal offenders, many of them murderers. My conclusion came from analysing two quite simple human aspects.

One – Human beings are inquisitive by nature. It’s just the way our brains are wired up, for example, do you remember annoying your parents no end when you were a kid, always asking – ‘Why this? Why that? Why something else?’ Do you remember what would happen as soon as you got an answer? That’s right, you would move the goal post back a little bit and the “why’s” would start all over again. Maybe your kids are doing the same to you today. Well, the good news is – they are not deliberately trying to annoy you. Those questions are due to the naturally inquisitive nature of the human brain. As we grow older, the questions change, but the desire to find answers to things we fail to understand never goes away. The human brain is always trying to learn new things, always trying to find answers to questions that are ever changing. The hunger for knowledge and understanding simply never really vanishes.

Two – I guess one could argue that the primordial mystery men have been struggling to understand since the beginning of times is life itself. Some of us have become obsessed with trying to find answers to questions such as – How did we get here and where did we come from? I believe that from that intense desire to understand life comes an equally intense desire to understand the lack of it – death. Where do we go, if we go anywhere, once we leave this life form? Is there life after death? Etc.

Once you add these two factors together – the naturally inquisitive nature of the human mind and an inherent human desire to understand life and death – the answer to the question “Why are people so fascinated by crime and murder?” becomes almost obvious. Murder sits right on that thin line that separates life from death. So, with that in mind, I believe that many of us, trying to satisfy our natural human curiosity, would love to understand the reasons that could lead someone to commit murder, to take away the life of a fellow human being, to play God so to speak, sometimes with extreme prejudice. Our intrigue and curiosity heightens considerably when the person in question is a repeat offender – a serial killer, and even more so when the murder is preceded by torture. In a way, our brains long to understand how can a human being, just like you and I, do something most of us could never even contemplate, and worse yet, take such pleasure from something so gruesome and sadistic that he/she would do it again, and again, and again. We simply want to understand.

A great number of us, searching for that understanding, will turn to books, films, documentaries, research papers whatever we can find. The problem is; we are all different. Every murderer or serial killer out there has their own motives for doing what they do, crazy or not. As a criminal behaviour psychologist I have never encountered two murderers with the same exact reasons behind their actions. So as soon as we finally understand the motivations behind the actions of, let’s say Killer X, along comes Killer Y, with a whole different Modus Operandi, a whole new signature, and a whole new set of reasons for us to try to figure out. We’re then back to asking the same questions, but inevitably we’ll keep getting different answers with every case. So in truth, our curiosity and fascination with crime and murder will never be totally satisfied, and we’ll keep coming back for more. Always trying to understand the reasons behind something unreasonable. That in itself could trigger an addiction, a vicious cycle, and that’s why crime readers and crime fans can become such aficionados – The hunger for understanding simply never really vanishes.

You have made use of the contemporary phenomenon that is social media, and referenced the dark web. Despite the recognised pernicious evils of both, you’ve got to admit it’s a bit of a godsend to crime writers. How deeply have you explored the dark web in the course of your writing?

Yes, I do agree that the Internet is a Godsend to writers. I know it certainly is to me, but to quote a song from Poison – every rose has its thorn. The Internet has its good side as well as its bad side. I did explore the dark web quite a bit, actually and yes, it can be very dark.

I’ve often heard authors say that they cannot read fiction while they are planning/writing their books- is this true of you? Any particular authors you admire?

For me it definitely is. I don’t read at all while I’m writing a novel.

To be honest, after becoming an author myself, I now admire every author out there because this is a tough business to be in.

Who would play you in a biopic of your life, as psychologist, international author, and total rock-god?

Not sure about the Rock God part, but thank you very much. Not sure, maybe Dwayne Johnson as we both have the same physique and the same hair color.

Perfect soundtrack for writing? Musicians you’d like to jam with?

Any sort of metal for me. It gets the thinking gears rolling.

Musicians I’d like to jam with. There are too many, but certainly Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie and A Perfect Circle. That would be awesome.

What’s next?

As soon as I am done with book 9 – The Gallery of the Dead – I will take a break of about a month (maybe more), recharge everything then start on book 10.

 

After a tough week, Tanya Kaitlin is looking forward to a relaxing night in, but as she steps out of her shower, she hears her phone ring.  The video call request comes from her best friend, Karen Ward.  Tanya takes the call and the nightmare begins. Karen is gagged and bound to a chair in her own living room.  If Tanya disconnects from the call, if she looks away from the camera, he will come after her next, the deep, raspy, demonic voice at the other end of the line promises her. As Hunter and Garcia investigate the threats, they are thrown into a rollercoaster of evil, chasing a predator who scouts the streets and social media networks for victims, taunting them with secret messages and feeding on their fear…

I cannot resist the allure of a new title from Chris Carter (One By One,   An Evil Mind ) and his dynamite pairing of detectives Robert Hunter and Carlos Garcia of the LAPD. Once again in The Caller our intrepid duo are drawn into the nasty world of another completely loco serial killer, who operates via the world of social media, exacting some wonderfully visceral, and cruel and unusual punishments on his victims and those closest to them. Throw in a hitman looking for revenge on the killer too, whilst hoping to dodge the radar of Hunter and Garcia, and what Carter dishes up is a spine chilling, violent, read in one sitting (in subdued lighting if you dare) serial killer thriller with some very nasty surprises indeed…Recommended.

A big thank you to Chris for answering my questions and to Simon & Schuster for the ARC.

Blog Tour- M. Jonathan Lee- Broken Branches- Guest Post

Welcome to the latest stop on the Broken Branches blog tour, but before we begin here’s a wee synopsis of M. Jonathan Lee’s widely talked about new book, a twisty and unsettling psychological thriller…

A family tragedy was the catalyst for Ian Perkins to return to the isolated cottage with his wife and young son. But now they are back, it seems yet more grief might befall the family.

There is still time to act, but that means Ian must face the uncomfortable truth about his past. And in doing so, he must uncover the truth behind the supposed family curse…

To celebrate the publication of the book, here’s an exclusive gust post by the author, where he shares with us some of the books that provide the best twist in the tale…

It would be incredible easy to simply list any five stories from Roald Dahl’s immense collection of short stories. Dahl is my favourite writer by some distance and I don’t think that many authors have managed to capture his style or penchant for the unusual, quirky and plain twisty! However, I do think that you probably would wish for a mixture of writers so, here goes.

Roald Dahl’s Lamb to the Slaughter, my all-time favourite story. An exceptional piece of writing, over just ten pages. It’s difficult to talk about any twisty story without giving away possible endings, but the way this is written and even the title is clever beyond belief.

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks.

Not strictly a twisting tale in so far as the changing of direction of the narrative, but the reader is immediate pulled in to a strange and unusual world which keeps getting stranger and stranger as Frank begins to discover the truth behind his existence. The ending is mind-blowing. Highly highly recommended.

John Berendt’s Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil.

 How do you possibly introduce plot twists into a true story? Well, I suppose that you firstly need to find the right story and then write it in such a way that the reader believes they are reading fiction. A retelling of a shooting in Savannah, Georgia in the early 1980’s – this has to be read to be believed.

The Kite Runner, Khalid Hosseini. One of my all time favourite stories with twist after twist after twist. When I first read the sleeve I really didn’t think it was my type of thing. I think everyone should read this book. It is beautiful, heart-breaking and enthralling.

Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk.

Everyone will know this story by now. But, the first time that I read it, I didn’t see it coming at all. What a twist. What a book.

Not sure whether I’m allowed one of my own in here? I’ll try and sneak it in all the same, A Tiny Feeling of Fear. I would suggest that there has never been a twist like this one and I’d challenge anyone to guess the ending.

Broken Branches by M Jonathan Lee is out now (£8.99, Hideaway Fall)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

Nick Kolakowski- A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps

Bill is a hustler’s hustler with a taste for the high life. He pulls off big scores for one of New York City’s more vicious gangs…until he suddenly grows a conscience. However, living the clean life takes a whole lot of money, and so Bill decides to steal a fortune from his employer before skipping town.  With a bag of cash in the trunk of his car, Bill heads west, ready for a new life. But all that money makes him a tempting target for some bad people he meets on the road—and if that wasn’t dangerous enough, some old friends are close behind him, and they intend to make a trophy of his head.  Pursued by crooked cops, dim-witted bouncers, and a wisecracking assassin in the midst of a midlife crisis, Bill will need to be a quick study in the way of the gun if he wants to survive his own getaway. Who knew that an honest attempt at redemption could rack up a body count like this?

Being a confirmed fan of deep down and dirty hardboiled American crime, and in the style of Castle Freeman’s Go With Me, or Denis Johnson’s Nobody Move, Kolakowski ticks all the boxes in this pert and stripped down tale of cross and double cross. Inhabited by a marvellous cast of emotionally battered, violent, scheming, characters all on the make, and up to their necks in trouble, the story veers between biting, razor sharp humour, punchy visceral violence, and a strangely unsettling probing of the character’s inner lives exposing a strange degree of emotional frailty, and the need to be loved. Despite being a relatively slim read, Kolakowski packs it to the gills with movement and action, and also has the good sense to include a feisty kick-assing female character in the testosterone -fuelled mix, who proves a perfect foil to the hapless Bill.

It’s a maelstrom of fast, furious action with Coen-esque tendencies that I whipped through at a cracking pace, fully appreciative of the more surreal concept of a hitman in strange attire that comes out of nowhere, before a brilliantly violent, and strangely pathos filled conclusion.

I have my concerns over how Kolakowski’s mind works, but I found this deliciously deranged and very pleasing indeed. Worryingly, perhaps this also says something about me. Recommended.

 

With a good dose of this…

A bit of this…

And plenty of this…

 

How could you possibly refuse? 

 

(With thanks to Nick for the ARC)

Purchase links …
Buy from the Down & Out Bookstore or from the following retailers …
Print: AmazonBarnes & Noble
eBook: KindleNookiTunesKobo

Vive La France!(2) Pierre Lemaitre- Three Days And A Life/ Herve Le Corre- After The War/ Antonin Varenne- Retribution Road

En l’honneur de la fête nationale, voici une sélection des thrillers Français qui ont impressionné, déplacé et ravi le Corbeau dans la même mesure.  Ou en d’autres termes, un billet de blog je pourrais simplement étiqueter, voici trois de mes livres préférés de l’année, qui ne risquent pas d’être dépassé n’importe quand bientôt. Hélas, ma collègue française serait un mauvais service à ces critiques, pardonnez-vous à l’anglais! 

Bonne lecture à tous et à toutes!*

Antoine is twelve years old. His parents are divorced and he lives with his mother in Beauval, a small, backwater town surrounded by forests, where everyone knows everyone’s business, and nothing much ever happens. But in the last days of 1999, a series of events unfolds, culminating in the shocking vanishing without trace of a young child. The adults of the town are at a loss to explain the disappearance, but for Antoine, it all begins with the violent death of his neighbour’s dog. From that one brutal act, his fate and the fate of his neighbour’s six year old son are bound forever. In the years following Rémi’s disappearance, Antoine wrestles with the role his actions played. As a seemingly inescapable net begins to tighten, breaking free from the suffocating environs of Beauval becomes a gnawing obsession. But how far does he have to run, and how long will it take before his past catches up with him again?

Being a confirmed admirer of Pierre Lemaitre’s books to date, I rather enjoyed the subtle shift of style and location that Three Days And A Life reveals. Turning his attention away from the big city to the rural backwater of Beauval, Lemaitre constructs a slower and more introspective novel than we have come to expect from him, but equally produces a more heightened, and psychologically deft portrayal of human frailty and morality…

Time after time, I become disappointed, and as you know more than a little incensed, by the unnatural narrative voice given to young protagonists. Consequently I avoid reading many books that have a pre-sixteen narrator or central character. With Antoine, the dislikeable little person that he is, Lemaitre captures beautifully his perception of the world, and his reactions to the consequences of his severe misdemeanour. Antoine is realistically imbued with a child’s thought processes, as to how to conceal and avoid punishment of his crime, and I enjoyed the authenticity of his under-developed sense of morality, which he seems to carry quite happily into his adult years too. I thought the portrayal of his mother was also excellent, and how Antoine’s childish perception of her as just his mother actually spoke volumes to the reader about her true emotional state. Equally, I loved the depiction of parochial small town jealousies, and ill-feeling, that reminded me of the observational prowess, and skewed morality that is so familiar in the works of the late Pascal Garnier. Lemaitre reveals a boiling pot of tension and envy that perfectly fits with the feel of a small community under pressure, and the distrust of their neighbours.

The latter stages of the book are hewed from Antoine’s re-visitation of childhood events from an adult perspective, and Lemaitre’s control of his narrative once again comes to the fore. With Antoine being as utterly self-absorbed as he was as a child, but perhaps with a greater perception of the fall out for others from his actions, and indeed, closer to home, there is another twist in store for the reader, and there was me beginning to worry that the king of the psychological twist would disappoint! Once again, a precise and engaging translation from Frank Wynne allows us to fully appreciate this tawdry and morally ambiguous tale of childhood mistakes, and Lemaitre has again demonstrated his flexibility and natural flair as a storyteller. Three Days And A Life is entertaining, thought-provoking, and as always highly recommended.

(With thanks to MacLehose for the ARC)

 

1950’s Bordeaux. Even now, the Second World War is never far from people’s memories, particularly in a city where the scars of collaboration and resistance are more keenly felt than ever. But another war has already begun. A war without a name, far away across the sea, in Algeria, where young men are sent to fight in a brutal conflict. Daniel knows what awaits him. He’s heard stories. Patrols, ambushes, reprisals, massacres, mutilations, all beneath a burning north African sun. He has just a month left before he leaves but, haunted by the loss of his parents and sister in the atrocities of the last war, Daniel questions why he is even going to fight in the first place. Meanwhile, past crimes are returning to haunt Albert Darlac, the godfather of Bordeaux: corrupt police chief, fascist sympathiser and one-time collaborator. Before long, a series of explosive events will set off a spiral of violence that will bring the horrific legacy of wars past and present to the streets of Bordeaux…

During the reading of After The War, I posted on social media that “This is astonishing. I have been moved, perplexed, disturbed, and enthralled in equal measure” and to be honest, in the wake of finishing it, I could simply leave it at that. Comprising of past and present timelines, the dual locations of the seedy underbelly of 1950’s Bordeaux, and the contentious French conflict in Algeria, and with one police protagonist that is evil incarnate,  Herve Le Corre has produced a truly uncompromising, multi-layered masterpiece…

In common with many crime thrillers this is a story driven by, and built on vengeance, as Daniel, a young man, on the cusp of war,  becomes aware of his estranged father returning to Bordeaux to seek revenge on the man who committed the ultimate betrayal during WWII. Through the powerful narrative of Daniel’s experience fighting in Algeria, juxtaposed with Jean, his father’s, meticulous plan to heap as much misery and wrath on Albert Darlac, an immoral, violent and thoroughly odious police detective, Le Corre raises the emotional intensity, and therefore the reader’s engagement with some considerable skill. His characterisation is absolutely superb, with all three male protagonist’s exposing to the reader the very best and worst of human nature, and digging deep into the notion of how we can be morally compelled to do bad things for good reasons. In the character of Darlac, we see the ultimate realisation of the bete noire, with a man whose actions come from the darkest recesses of immorality, and whose revenge on those around him is driven by evil of the highest order. I was equally repulsed and fascinated by him throughout, and will from this day forward acquire the mantle of one of the darkest characters ever to grace the pages of crime fiction.

Le Corre’s depiction of Daniel experiencing the sheer intensity and dubious morality of men’s actions in war was my personal highlight of the book. As a regular reader of contemporary literary  war fiction, I thought that the author’s realisation and visualisation of the terrain itself was perfect in every detail, and the mundanity of a soldier’s life, interrupted with these big, bold and terrifying incidences of combat was hugely affecting on the reader. Le Corre never turns his full gaze away from this harshest of moral issues as to how the men in Daniel’s platoon react so viscerally to attack, and how they vent this rage on the enemy, contravening the rules of war. The scenes he presents are uncompromising, and yes, uncomfortable at times, but so real and necessary to underscore Daniel’s gradual realisation of the futility of that for which he fights, and in which he loses comrades. It was breath-taking in its depiction.

After The War is a behemoth of a thriller, that challenges and perplexes the reader, testing our notions of morality and empathy, and through the adept translation of Sam Taylor, a thoroughly rewarding, if emotionally troubling read. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to MacLehose for the ARC)

 

And last, but by no means least, and quite possibly my book of the year…

Burma, 1852. Arthur Bowman, a sergeant in the East India Company, is sent on a secret mission during the Second Anglo-Burmese War. But the expedition is foiled – his men are captured and tortured. Throughout their ordeal, a single word becomes Bowman’s mantra, a word that will stiffen their powers of endurance in the face of unimaginable suffering: “Survival”. But for all that, only a handful escape with their lives. Some years later in London, battling his ghosts through a haze of alcohol and opium, Bowman discovers a mutilated corpse in a sewer. The victim appears to have been subjected to the same torments as Bowman endured in the Burmese jungle. And the word “Survival” has been daubed in blood by the body’s side. Persuaded that the culprit is one of the men who shared his captivity, Bowman resolves to hunt him down…

I have tried and failed to write a coherent review of Retribution Road, with several attempts, as it’s impossible to do justice as an amateur reviewer to the sheer magnificence of this novel. Adopting the form of an allegoric odyssey, Antonin Varenne has produced a sprawling, magisterial novel that defies comparison to anything I have read before…

Structured as three interlinking parts, and traversing more than 700 pages, I could feel the influence of a quest serving as a plot device in mythology and fiction, with a difficult journey towards a goal, in the character of Arthur Bowman who inhabits, and influences, each stage of the novel. As he journeys from his military service in Burma, then on to Victorian London, and finally to the swathes of  unconquered territory of America in the grip of the gold rush, each section of the book is wonderfully visual, with Varenne depicting each landscape with pinpoint precision. In his use of location the ordinary is made extraordinary, and the reader’s sense of us being such a small inconsequential part of the natural world is continually brought to bear. Bowman is beautifully cast as both avenging angel and pioneer, weighted down by the brutal events in his personal history, and hence a man of changeable moods and impulses that wax and wane during the course of his mission to track down a killer.

The prose throughout is as tender and sensitive, as it is violent and vengeful, and our emotions and feelings are challenged and manipulated throughout, as Bowman navigates through both testing terrain, and human interaction. The book also poses some interesting theories on  morality and immorality, particularly as a consequence of Bowman’s actions, and those of the man he so ardently and doggedly pursues, at intense personal cost. I don’t think it is any exaggeration to say that this is a true magnum opus, and held me utterly in its power along the long road to redemption and justice. It was just a completely wonderful emotional rollercoaster,  suffused with historical detail, and a totally authentic evocation of place. It is a hugely complex and challenging novel, addressing themes of war, religion, revenge, human connection and emotional strife. As ever, Sam Taylor provides a perfect translation, that subtly captures the nuances of Varenne’s intensity of emotion.  I cannot praise Retribution Road enough, and would highly recommend it for fiction and crime fiction readers alike. C‘est vraiment magnifique!  

(With thanks to MacLehose for the ARC)

 

*In honour of Bastille Day, here are a selection of French thrillers that have awed, moved and delighted the Raven in equal measure.  Or in other words, a blog post I could simply label, here are three of my favourite books of the year, that are unlikely to be surpassed any time soon. Alas my schoolgirl French would be a disservice to these reviews so forgive the English!  Happy reading!

Vive La France! (1) Philippe Georget- Crimes Of Winter/ Frederic Dard- The King of Fools/ Emmanuel Carrere- The Adversary

En l’honneur de la Journée de la Bastille, il y a trois livres français criminellement bons pour vous ravir et vous divertir avec adultère, meurtre, femmes dangereuses et hommes stupides. Hélas, ma collègue française serait un mauvais service à ces critiques, pardonnez-vous à l’anglais! 

Bonne lecture!*

 

This winter is going to be a rough one for Inspector Gilles Sebag, for he has discovered a terrible truth: Claire has been cheating on him. Bouncing between depression, whisky, and insomnia, he buries himself in work in an attempt to forget. But his investigations lead him inexorably to bigger tragedies – a woman murdered in a hotel, a depressed man who throws himself from the roof of his building, another who threatens to blow up the neighborhood – all of them involving betrayals of some sort.  Perpignan seems to be suffering from a veritable epidemic of crimes of passion. Adultery is everywhere and each betrayal leads to another dramatic crime…

Inspired by the encouragement of other reviewers to read Philippe Georget, this is my first dip into the Inspector Gilles Sebag series of thrillers. I thought the characterisation was truly excellent both of the cuckolded Sebag, with his melancholy wistfulness, and growing dependence on the demon drink, and the surrounding cast of police characters. Sebag himself is a walking contradiction being so incredibly intuitive and effective in his job, but a mass of neuroses when dealing with the fallout of his wife’s affair, and the increasing strain placed on him by a succession of cases involving adultery.  I loved  his colleague Jacques Molina, a big bear of a man, with his bawdy humour and distinctly non-PC view of the world, and the shifty and duplicitous Francois Menard, jealous of Sebag’s innate ability to read and disseminate a crime suspect and scene so effectively. The interactions and relationships between all three both personally and professionally really held the book together, as well as the intermittent entrance of others affiliated to the police force, and the tensions or humour they brought to the story.  Although I enjoyed the various strands of the plot and its intricacies, regarding cases of murder and suicides arising from a range of adulterous behaviour, I felt that there was a little too much repetition and naval gazing afforded to Sebag as he sought to make connections between his own wife’s betrayal, and the cases he’s involved in.  I like a slow-burner as much as the next person, but sometimes it felt more like stopping than slowing, so felt the book could have been shortened slightly  to a more consistently steady pace. That aside, I did really enjoy the book overall, and will be seeking out others in the series soon. Recommended.

(With thanks to Europa Editions for the ARC)

 

From the moment he first gazes at Marjory across the roulette table in the Cote d’Azur Jean-Marie is entranced, and when their feverish holiday romance comes to an end he decides to take the biggest gamble of his life – to follow the beautiful Englishwoman back to rainy Edinburgh. But Jean-Marie’s luck runs out as soon as he arrives. His infatuation with Marjory draws him into an impenetrable mystery and soon he finds himself with blood on his hands, trapped in the grey-granite labyrinth of the city streets, and running out of time to save his sanity and his life…

The works of Frederic Dard are a constant source of delight for me, and The King of Fools is one of the best I have read to date. With its compelling blend of the suspense of Hitchcock, and the psychological claustrophobia of Simenon and Highsmith, this is a taut and tense tale of infatuation and murder played out on the Cote D’Azur, and the grim, dark streets of 1950’s Edinburgh. Jean-Marie is a wonderfully flaky man, ruled by his baser instincts, that lead him to pursue the pale, and lets be honest, quite unprepossessing Marjory from sensual France to down at heel Scotland. Dard delights in painting a dark and depressing picture of Scottish life, and its environs, that causes the reader to question further the indefatigable will of Jean-Marie to wrest the seemingly hapless Marjory from a loveless marriage. But Dard being Dard, you know that there will be dark deeds afoot, that will explode in a moment of madness, but which of our loved up pair will be caught in the crossfire? That would be telling, and I’m sure you will accrue as much pleasure from finding it out as I did. Dard once again shows his knack for ordinary people being put in extraordinary circumstances, with all the psychological darkness and violence that became his trademark. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Pushkin for the ARC)

 

 “On the Saturday morning of January 9th, 1993, while Jean Claude Romand was killing his wife and children, I was with mine in a parent-teacher meeting…” With these chilling first words, acclaimed master of psychological suspense, Emmanuel Carrère, begins his exploration of the double life of a respectable doctor, eighteen years of lies, five murders, and the extremes to which ordinary people can go.

Working for a major book retailer in the UK, we are currently promoting this as our Non- Fiction Book of the Month, and whilst some of my colleagues seem keen to foist this on our customers as a true crime book, I would say that The Adversary is so far off the scale of slasher-style true crime so as not to really resemble a true crime book in its traditional form, the notable exceptions being In Cold Blood and The Executioner’s Song. With a subtle and thoughtful grace, that mirrors Emmanuel Carrere’s dual style as a writer of high quality literary fiction, he presents a tale revolving around a truly Walter Mitty-esque man, whose whole identity and life is built on a tissue of lies and deceit with horrific results. Carrere stands at a distance from his subject for much of the book, although slightly peppering the tale with instances of his own life as a family man, but encourages the reader to form their own opinions, and moral judgement on Romand’s life and crimes. The writing is succinct, and at times, beautifully lyrical as The Adversary explores Romand’s twisted and, at times, inexplicable relationship with the world, leading to an original and disturbing portrait of the mind and psychosis of a killer. Recommended.

(With thanks to Vintage for the ARC)

 

*In honour of Bastille Day here are three criminally good French books to delight and entertain you with adultery, murder, dangerous women and foolish men… Alas my schoolgirl French would be a disservice to these reviews so forgive the English!  Happy reading!

#BlogTour- Matthew Richardson- My Name Is Nobody- Extract

Welcome to the next stop on the blog tour for Matthew Richardson’s debut spy thriller, My Name Is Nobody. I reviewed this book a few weeks ago, and was struck by how it retains all the tension and atmosphere of a very traditional spy thriller, but with a refreshingly contemporary take on spies, lies and espionage. Here is the opening chapter from the book for your delectation and delight, and read my review here .

Solomon Vine was the best of his generation, a spy on a fast track to the top. But when a prisoner is shot in unexplained circumstances on his watch, only suspension and exile beckon.
Three months later, MI6’s Head of Station in Istanbul is abducted from his home. There are signs of a violent struggle. With the Service in lockdown, uncertain of who can be trusted, thoughts turn to the missing man’s oldest friend: Solomon Vine.
Officially suspended, Vine can operate outside the chain of command to uncover the truth. But his investigation soon reveals that the disappearance heralds something much darker. And that there’s much more at stake than the life of a single spy…

Prologue

Istanbul, August 2016

‘I know a secret,’ he says. ‘A secret that changes everything.’

Solomon Vine pulls out the rickety plastic chair and sits down on the opposite side of the table. The room is stark and empty. Dust clings to the walls.

‘That wasn’t my question,’ Vine says, holding the man’s gaze. His voice is without colour, bare of any emotion.

‘No. But it is my answer.’

‘I don’t want your secrets, I want names.’

There is an interruption as the door screeches open. Gabriel Wilde fills the space, offering a slight nod of apology. He pads across the concrete flooring and takes the chair on Vine’s left. He slides over a manila folder. Vine doesn’t look at it immediately, as if he has already memorized its contents. Instead, it sits there, free of any official marking or classifica­ tion, anonymous and deniable.

Vine lets a beat of silence fall. He needs to make the sus­ pect hear the full, noiseless force of it. There is no one else here to save him. This isn’t official embassy territory, soft­ ened by rules and edicts. There are no platoons of lawyers ready to ambush the interrogation. He is theirs, to do with what they will.

You don’t understand,’ the man says now. There is a spike of volume in his voice. He leans forwards so his upper­body weight pivots on his elbows. Despite the handcuffs, he fights for dexterity with his hands, prodding his index finger at the

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table top in rhythm with his voice. ‘What I know changes everything. Whatever you think you can do, you are mistaken.’

Vine reaches for the file and brandishes it. He opens the cover and scans the first page.

‘Mobile ­phone records show recent contact with five British citizens who have travelled to Syria,’ he says. ‘We have evidence confirming the supply of fake passports and illegal arms. Her Majesty’s government has an isolation cell pre­ pared specially for your return home. With the material we have in this folder alone, you will be sent down for life . . . Write down the names of your contacts, and we can talk.’

The man looks up, lips creasing into a smile. It is not a reflex, but a carefully calibrated action, the jaw wounded with amusement.

‘There will be no trial, no sentence, no cell,’ he says.

‘No one will save you, Dr Yousef,’ says Vine. ‘No one even knows you’re here. You have disappeared off the face of the earth. You’re lucky you ran into us before the Americans. Though if you would like to be transferred, I’m sure that can be arranged . . .’

He shakes his head. This time the smile thickens into laughter. ‘One word from me and they will let me go . . . Trust me, they will call.’

‘Who will call?’ says Gabriel Wilde, breaking his silence. He gets up from the chair and starts roaming the boxy parameters of the room.

‘The people who matter,’ says Ahmed Yousef. ‘They always do. If they want my secret, they will pay the price. It is the terms of business. Nothing more.’

‘A secret that changes everything?’ says Wilde. He stops behind Yousef ’s chair and dips his voice to a whisper. ‘It

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better be a bloody good one. A grass can never be too careful . . .’

‘It’s the best,’ says Yousef. ‘They will call. You will see.’ ‘And if they don’t?’

Yousef doesn’t answer. He looks to the closed door. As if on cue, there is the flash of the alert light, a throb of red that upsets the blankness of the room. Vine feels the first cramp of unease as he gets up from the table and makes his way to the door.

It is cool outside. There is another sound behind, and Vine turns to see Wilde following him down the long line of grey corridor to the control room. An RMP guard all fi ety eyes and nervous speed waits with the phone.

‘Who is it?’

‘The switch at HQ,’ he says, handing over the red receiver.

As Vine waits to be connected, the guard turns to Wilde. ‘Your wife also called, sir. She needs you back at base. She

said it was urgent.’

Wilde doesn’t display any twinge of anxiety. Instead, he says to Vine: ‘You OK to finish this? I’ll be back as soon as I can . . .’

Vine nods, careful not to react at the mention of Rose. The control room is full of monitors, a glassy panorama of concrete floors and airless turnings. He sees Wilde make his way down the hall and in the direction of the car park. A voice emerges through the crackle on the other line.

‘Please hold for the Chief . . .’

One burr later, the gravelly tones of Sir Alexander Cecil fill the speaker.

‘Is it true?’ the voice says. ‘I’m sorry?’

‘Is it true, Vine? You have Ahmed Yousef in custody?’

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‘Yes,’ he says. ‘He’s not talking at the moment. But we’re getting there. The product he was carrying should be enough to put him away this time.’

There is no response on the end of the line. Vine can feel the weight of it, like a silent throat­clearing. ‘I never said this, Vine. Are we clear? This never came from me.’

‘I’m sorry?’

Youre to release Ahmed Yousef immediately. I don’t care where you drop him, but see that you do so within the next half hour.’

I know a secret . . . A secret that changes everything . . .

Vine halts, unable to reply immediately. Sweat begins to gather on his forehead, a tightness pressing on his gut. ‘The line’s bad. Repeat please.’

‘You caught it perfectly well, Vine. Just do it.’

Vine waits for another moment, topping up the compos­ ure in his voice. ‘What’s going on?’

‘Nothing’s going on,’ says Cecil. ‘Drop him and continue with whatever you were doing. Don’t ask questions. Not this time.’

‘Sir, we have direct evidence implicating Ahmed Yousef in the cases of at least five British citizens arriving in Syria. He is a priority­one target on the NSC and CIA Most Wanted lists. We have more than enough material here to prosecute. This makes no sense.’

Cecil’s voice frosts over now, the words newly brittle. ‘This isn’t a discussion, Vine. There are more important things going on here than you can possibly imagine. Carry out this order or I’ll damn well get someone else to.’

With that, the line cuts off. Cecil’s voice is replaced by a scratchy monotone. Vine hands the receiver back to the RMP guard. He glances at the monitors.

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He turns to the guard. ‘Is there anyone else in the building?’ ‘No, sir,’ he says. ‘Just you, me and the prisoner.’

Vine waits. Once said, the words can’t be unsaid. ‘Good. I want you to go dark until I say so. If anyone asks, blame it on a power cut.’ He notices the scrunch of concern on the man’s face. ‘Refer any questions to me.’

He looks up at the monitors for a final time to see Gabriel Wilde’s car inching out of the driveway escaping all conse­quences with immaculate timing. He watches as the guard begins methodically turning the cameras off, each screen blinking fuzzily and then blank.

Then he leaves the building and walks into the blast of heat outside. He unfurls a lighter and a cigarette. The sun bruises his face. He can already feel the pincers moving to­ wards him. Cecil will have engineered things in London to make sure the call was never logged. If it goes wrong, Cecil will be able to plausibly deny he ever gave instructions to let Ahmed Yousef free. But, if Vine doesn’t follow through, he will find the full might of the fifth floor against him. The game demands a scapegoat, and he is now theirs.

He keeps on smoking, letting the minutes drift away, try­ing to will things clearer. Eventually, he douses the final one and turns. As he walks, the words repeat, tumbling over themselves.

There are more important things going on here than you can possibly imagine . . .

Curiosity compels him forwards now. The secret looms like a challenge. He treads back through the dour hallways, not yet sure what he will do. But he finds himself suddenly longing to be away from here, tired of patrolling the huts and compounds, starved of oxygen and scenery; tired of the decisions and the choices.

5

He buzzes back into the secure area and makes his way down the thin final corridor. The interrogation room lies at the end, aglow with a harsher whiteness. Vine wonders again what hold Yousef has on London. What does he know? What grubby deal has he engineered that sees him immune from further questioning? Why would the Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service intervene personally to demand his release?

I know a secret . . . A secret that changes everything . . .

Vine reaches the door and pauses for a moment. He feels a new anger begin to work its way up from the pit of his stomach until it fills his throat.

He presses his card against the scanner and hears the door click open. He tries to brush aside any final doubt as he steps into the brighter light. He knows what he will do, what he must do.

It is then that he stops. In front of him is an empty chair, a hollow space where Ahmed Yousef should be. But that isn’t it. There is something else wrong. He looks down at the floor and sees the first splashes of colour against the grey­ ness. It seems to ooze and wander according to a logic of its own. Slowly, he traces the source, a lump of shadow behind the table.

Ahmed Yousef is lying on his back, blood haloing around him. It looks like a gunshot wound. Without stopping to cal­culate the consequences, Vine finds himself pressing the alert button. A keening noise smothers the building.

Soon the steps of the RMP guard sound outside. The door opens with a ponderous click.

He knows they have minutes at best. With the amount of blood loss, they could already be too late. He strains to feel a pulse. But there is just flesh, slippery and raw.

6

‘Call for an urgent medical team,’ he shouts. ‘We need to evacuate him now. As the guard turns, Vine says: ‘Find out who’s been in here and how the hell this could have happened.’

The delay seems to last for ever. He takes out the emer­gency medical kit and begins doing everything he can to stem the blood loss. But the blood spatters his fingers and up his arms. His clothes become damp and sticky. He tries again to find any signs of consciousness, feels just the fading echo of a pulse.

Minutes later, the guard returns. ‘Evac team on their way from base, sir. ETA five minutes.’ He starts to walk further into the room then stops and hovers.

‘What is it?’

Vine turns. He realizes what he must look like a butcher, or a surgeon.

‘I’ve found the card that was used to enter the building, sir,’ he says. ‘Ten minutes ago. With the CCTV down, that’s the only identifier we have.’

And?’ Vine says impatiently. Who was in here? Who did this?’

The guard doesn’t answer at first. He looks nervous, as if unable to summon the words.

‘It was you, sir.’

Meet the author…

Matthew Richardson studied English at Durham University and Merton College, Oxford. After a brief spell as a freelance journalist, he began working as a researcher and speechwriter in Westminster, and has also written speeches for senior figures in the private sector. My Name is Nobody is his first novel.

My Name Is Nobody is available now- published by Penguin Books

 

 

 

Clare Carson- The Dark Isle

Sam grew up in the shadow of the secret state. Her father was an undercover agent, full of tall stories about tradecraft and traitors. Then he died, killed in the line of duty. Now Sam has travelled to Hoy, in Orkney, to piece together the puzzle of her father’s past. Haunted by echoes of childhood holidays, Sam is sure the truth lies buried here, somewhere. What she finds is a tiny island of dramatic skies, swooping birds, rugged sea stacks and just four hundred people. An island remote enough to shelter someone who doesn’t want to be found. An island small enough to keep a secret…

Having been utterly bewitched by Orkney Twilight and The Salt Marsh , it was with some trepidation that I embarked on The Dark Isle as I desperately wanted to be as in awe of this book as the previous two. I’m pleased to say that my fears were completely groundless and Clare Carson has triumphed once again…

The Dark Isle moves seamlessly between two timelines spanning the intensely hot summer of 1976, and the political unrest of 1989, with the poll tax demonstrations firmly rooting us in this particular period. Likewise, the story pivots between London and Orkney within both periods of time, with Carson once again demonstrating her particular skill in scene setting and atmosphere, so unlike other books with split timelines , the reader is instantly transported to, and settled within the locations, even without the date stamps on the chapters. Carson’s depiction of landscape, weather and nature,  is completely entrancing as ever. The rugged wilderness of Hoy which seems to teeter on the edge of the earth is as vital and real as the suburban streets of London that Sam frequents in her formative years, and affords Carson ample opportunity to showcase both, and how they impact on, and play such an important part in Sam’s realisation of the world as a whole, and within her own troubled and secretive family history.

In the London scenes, Carson adopts the viewpoint of a flaneur, with the careful demarcation of Sam’s stomping grounds both as a child and as a young woman. In the wilds of the Scottish Isles, Carson casts Sam as an old style explorer as she works to uncover real history through archaeology, and her own personal history whose secrets lie buried in this  mystical and  unforgiving terrain. The locations are absolutely intrinsic to the development of the storylines, and play as much of a role as any character contained within its pages. There are precise and naturalistic descriptions of flora and fauna which flow beautifully in and out of the narrative, giving a sharp vitality and visual panorama to the reader. Carson weaves in mythical tales, adding to the sense of unknowing that permeates the book, and subtly enlightening the reader on folklore which still remains totally in keeping with the story.

Sam is a complex and engaging character, and this book is no exception. There’s a quote that says “Be like a spy. Keep your true self hidden,” and one that Sam along with other characters all seem to adhere to. With her father’s influence, as a shadowy and secretive undercover operative, I found it fascinating how despite losing him some years previously this influence has steadily increased in her own psyche, and how the more subtle aspects of his personality are revealed in Sam from time to time. She is resourceful, determined, not unnaturally brave, and refreshingly susceptible to the duplicity of others. There’s a realism and truthfulness to her character, that makes us admire her gumption, and empathise with her less glorious moments of naivety, and I have a great affection for her as a character. So as not to unwittingly reveal anything, all I would say to the other protagonists who encourage or seek to thwart Sam’s efforts, is that you will be surprised and frustrated by their various deceptions, and most importantly as you’re reading…trust no one…

I suspect that I will have a similar trepidation when I read Clare Carson’s next book, having been so enamoured with this series to date, but I’m willing to endure it! The Dark Isle is another great addition to this beautifully written series, and I would recommend all three books heartily. Great storytelling, pitch perfect plotting, and a wonderful sense of time and place. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to the author and Head of Zeus for the ARC)

 

#BlogTour- J. G. Sinclair- Walk In Silence

Keira Lynch may be a lawyer, but that doesn’t mean she plays by the rules. She has been summoned to give evidence against an Albanian hit man. She was there the night he murdered the mother of a five-year-old boy. She remembers it well – it was the same night he put three bullets in her chest and left her for dead.
But there are powerful people who want the hit man back on the streets. When they kidnap the boy, she is given a choice: commit perjury, blow the trial and allow the killer to walk or give evidence, convict him and watch the child die. Keira must make a decision. This time, does she have to cross a line to win?

Following Seventy Times Seven and Blood Whispers, this is the third of J. G. Sinclair’s crime thrillers featuring the character of forthright and feisty Irish lawyer Keira Lynch. Lynch is juggling the dual concerns of an explosive court case back in her adopted city of Glasgow, but also tracking down the whereabouts of an orphaned boy in Albania to provide a better future for him after the violent death of his mother. Still recovering from the violent events recounted in the previous book, once again Lynch is in a killer’s sights, and must call on all her mental and physical strength to outwit the bad guys…

Quite honestly I could just say that I absolutely blooming loved this, and leave it at that, but as this is not an Amazon review, although I did receive the book well-packaged, I will share a little more with you. J. G. Sinclair was speaking at a recent crime festival, and said that his writing was incredibly influenced by the visual nature of the scenes and how this committed itself to the page, and I was incredibly struck throughout by the very strong sense of scene setting that Sinclair ingrains in his book. Be it the austere surrounds of a Glasgow courtroom, the terrace of a hotel in Albania, or a small village in which one particularly beautifully described building houses a horrific discovery. A sense of location and atmosphere suffuses the book consistently throughout, giving added depth and colour behind the central action as a backdrop to the increasingly precarious and dangerous situation that Lynch finds herself involved in.

The plot is utterly compelling, bolstered to some degree by the strength of Lynch’s character, but more simply that Sinclair has a knack for pure thrilling storytelling. There are bad guys, good guys, good guys that could be bad and vice versa, and the relentless pressure of Lynch’s mission to rescue this small child, and seek justice for his murdered mother driving the plot on at a furious pace. The violence is swift and uncompromising, but unlike many thrillers I have read where the degree of violence visited on one woman seems somewhat incredulous, Lynch is very much physically capable to meet violence with violence. Aside from her physical prowess, and her amazing knife skills, she is strong, mentally resilient and quick witted, continually assessing, planning, premeditating  and changing tactics to overcome the peril she finds herself in. She’s also a pretty good lawyer. And justifiably killed a man when she was a small girl. She’s great.

I read Walk In Silence at a frenetic pace, as the speed and energy of Sinclair’s writing, just pushes you on mercilessly, and avoiding spoilers I think the ending could be an interesting set-up for a new fork in Lynch’s life. Action, spills, thrills and some emotional depth it has to be said, amongst the maelstrom of violence and duplicity. Great thriller. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

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